[Illustration: Snow in the Park]
After a few days of thought-congealing cold—a cold so intense that sundry country people who had left their homes before dawn to drive into Paris with farm produce were taken dead from their market-carts at the end of the journey—the weather mercifully changed. A heavy snowfall now tempered the inclement air, and turned the leafless park into a fairy vision.
The nights were still cold, but during the day the sun glinted warmly on the frozen waters of the gilded fountains and sparkled on the facets of the crisp snow. The marble benches in the sheltered nooks of the snug Chateau gardens were occupied by little groups, which usually consisted of a bonne and a baby, or of a chevalier and a hopelessly unclassable dog; for the dogs of Versailles belong to breeds that no man living could classify, the most prevalent type in clumsiness of contour and astonishing shagginess of coat resembling nothing more natural than those human travesties of the canine race familiar to us in pantomime.
Along the snow-covered paths under the leafless trees, on whose branches close-wreathed mistletoe hangs like rooks’ nests, the statues stood like guardian angels of the scene. They had lost their air of aloofness and were at one with the white earth, just as the forest trees in their autumn dress of brown and russet appear more in unison with their parent soil than when decked in their bravery of summer greenery.
THE HAUNTED CHATEAU
[Illustration: A Veteran of the Chateau]
The Chateau of Versailles, like the town, dozes through the winter, only half awakening on Sunday afternoons when the townsfolk make it their meeting-place. Then conscripts, in clumsy, ill-fitting uniforms, tread noisily over the shining parqueterie floors, and burgesses gossip amicably in the dazzling Galerie des Glaces, where each morning courtiers were wont to await the uprising of their king. But on the weekdays visitors are of the rarest. Sometimes a few half-frozen people who have rashly automobiled thither from Paris alight at the Chateau gates, and take a hurried walk through the empty galleries to restore the circulation to their stiffened limbs before venturing to set forth on the return journey.
Every weekday in the Place d’Armes, squads of conscripts are busily drilling, running hither and thither with unflagging energy, and the air resounds with the hoarse staccato cries of “Un! Deux! Trois!” wherewith they accompany their movements, cries that, heard from a short distance, exactly resemble the harsh barking of a legion of dogs.